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Tech Spotlight: Conveyors

Sept. 1, 2005
As conveyor systems become more affordable, they are being used at the front end to improve warehouse efficiency.

Conveyors are increasing warehouse efficiency and productivity by being used earlier in the picking process, says Matt Senecal, director of new business development, WSI Solutions (Fredrick, Md.).

"Much of what is going on right now is process-oriented change," he explains. At present, his company is retrofitting old distribution centers with pick-to-conveyor systems.

Companies are starting to use different types of casepick modules that let them use single-person zones, where order pickers fill boxes on a conveyor. This method produces an exponential increase in efficiency. Consider the numbers: One person can handle 100 boxes on a conveyor. Before, it took 10 people in lift trucks to pick 10 boxes each.

Fortunately, conveyor price points are at a level where companies can cost effectively implement more conveyor on a larger scale including installing them in picking. Their upfront costs are being justified by reductions in labor, overhead and liability insurance.

Conveyors are becoming more than just transportation. They add value to the pick process through improved picking accuracy, especially in pick-to-light modules, he reports.

Big-box retailers are changing the way some warehouses pick. Wal-Mart, for example, needs more than one hairbrush. It needs a case or more. The cases are put on the conveyor. This may seem to put the conveyor back in its traditional transportation role. However, the difference is the conveyor is used in the front end of the process rather than the back end.

Depending on the industry and the product, conveyors used in picking probably work best for companies that pick to and distribute many boxes. Conveyors also increase the efficiency and productivity of crossdock operations where pallets are received and then shipped.

See page 31 for details about specific conveyors for a variety of industries.

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